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Authors: Cooper West

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The Châtelaine: Book 1

Cooper West

Ursula Price (Sula) has never known anything but instability in her life as the werebear daughter of a werebear. All she knows with certainty is that her kind is feared and loathed by both humans and other shifters, and she suspects she might be the last werebear alive. Her mother's final gift to her before she died was a strange, magical and possibly evil charmed bracelet that keeps Sula's bear nature tamped down and controlled.

After traveling alone for years, she joins forces with a rogue female werewolf named Lisbeth, who has ideas of her own about settling down. In the small Colorado town of Hartsville, Lisbeth hooks up with a fellow rogue werewolf, Alpha Tony Mandalari, who is traveling through with his small and slightly queer pack of two. Daniel Carter and Cal Whitman are werewolves who are instantly attracted to the power the Sula radiates, and the woman who radiates that power. Deeply in love with each other, Daniel and Cal confront the challenge of loving Sula and trying to bring her into their pack, despite her fears and resistance.

The pack slowly starts to coalesce, but when the werewolves ask Sula to legally register with them she finds herself at a crossroads: continue on her lonely but safe path as the only werebear left alive, or risk everything and settle down with her new “family”?

Copyright 2014, Cooper West
Full copyright information contained in back matter

Chapter 1

C
al did not want to stop in the podunk mountain town in the middle of bumfuckall, Nowhere, Colorado.
It was small and smelled of lumber and horses, which was not in any way Cal's definition of civilization. But Tony “had a feeling, ” and since he was the Alpha he got to make his decisions based on that alone. Cal's feelings of annoyance, on the other hand, counted for nothing. He figured it was a good thing he was used to it.

They got a room at the nicest name–brand hotel in the whole place, which was at least a step or two above the rat–traps they sometimes stayed at on the road. Tony was generally a stingy bastard about money when it came to food, clothes and alcohol, but he did not mind shelling for clean digs when they were available. It had two queen sized beds, although Cal bet that they would all end up together in one of them, as usual. Daniel wasn't convinced.

“I think Tony's on a mate hunt,” Daniel said quietly as they sat on the small porch of the hotel room, enjoying the last rays of afternoon sunlight. Tony was inside, cleaning up. He got first dibs on the bathroom, always, which was the natural order of things but Cal was feeling itchy from being on the road for days.

“So? Isn't he always?” Cal scratched his arm. Daniel reached over and placed his hand over Cal's, forcing him to stop. Cal snarled at him, but Daniel squeezed his hand affectionately.

“Stop it, you'll get the shower next.”

Cal leaned back in the chair, grumbling but pleased that Daniel did not let go of his hand. Daniel was very 'proper,' as Cal's mother would have said. He did not go in for public displays of affection or even emotion, too much. When they first met, Cal thought the guy had a stick up his ass. He was very happy when it turned out that what Daniel liked up his ass was Cal. Still, Daniel and public displays of affection were rare.

“I'm saying, he's been pushing back at us for a few weeks. He's looking for something.”

Cal paid attention. Daniel was better at reading Tony's moods than Cal was, because in general Cal did not care too much. Tony would tell him what to do and when, whether it was kill something or let Tony fuck him, and Cal was good with that. He liked a firm authority structure. It was one reason he made a good cop, back in the day: he knew his place, and worked well within it. Currently, his place was under Daniel, who was under Tony. It was right, and natural, and if they happened to be a little queer and throw sex in the mix, then who was to judge?

Aside from every other pack they ever ran across, that was.

Daniel sighed and removed his hand. Cal glared at the space where Daniel's hand had been.

“He's going to want to go out. I don't think we're even sleeping in these beds tonight.”

Cal perked up at that. It had been weeks since they shifted to their natural forms and played around in the wild. He missed it. His mother always called him her “dirty yard dog” because he loved rolling around in the mud so much, and he couldn't help but get excited by the idea of running around in the mountainous wilds of Colorado. Suddenly the town did not look so bad.

“Should we do a temp register, then?”

Daniel scrunched up his face, thinking. It was impressive how man who was so handsome and masculine could look downright adorable when he did that. Cal grinned. He loved everything about Daniel, sometimes it was pure indulgence to look.

“I'll ask Tony.”

“You'll ask me what?” Tony was behind them, standing in the door with a towel wrapped around his waist. If Cal wasn't madly in love with Daniel, he would have fallen for Tony a long time ago because the man radiated sex appeal. He was long waisted and had olive skin, his looks distinctive and predatory, like some mythic Alpha out of a Greek epic or something, Cal wasn't sure. But the description fit.

Daniel sat up too look at their Alpha. “Whether we should register with the authorities. If we're playing tonight, it might be a good idea. It would at least put a moratorium on wolf hunting for the week.”

Tony looked out at the mountains that surrounded them. Podunknowhereville (or where ever they were) was nestled in small valley, giving them access to about three mountain ranges. There was wilderness every direction they turned, which Cal had to admit appealed to him. But registering, even temporarily, was a huge step, and something they never did unless they were in another pack's territory for more than a couple of weeks. Tony wasn't running from anything or anyone, but they were a rogue pack and he liked to keep them from getting tied down anywhere that could get them in trouble. Cal respected that because it was the alpha's job to protect them, but it made him feel even more homeless than he already was. It had been years since he had settled down anywhere for more than a month or two at a time, and that had been back before he and Daniel aligned themselves with Tony.

Tony shook his head. “No, I don't think so. We're here for a quickie—some beer, some frolicking in the woods, and we're gone tomorrow.”

Daniel frowned. “Is there a pack registered here?”

“No, and that's part of what bothers me. This is prime territory, not exactly metropolitan but beautiful and big and centrally located.” Tony swept an arm out to indicate the view, which even Cal had to admit was postcard–worthy beautiful. “I checked the Registration Rolls online, and no one has claimed this place in years. No one is here now, officially.”

Cal bristled. “You think there's an underground pack here?”

Tony shrugged. “Maybe. Or worse. I don't like playing with unknowns, so we aren't staying. A good meal, a night howling at the moon, and we're gone. I'd like to head towards Denver, a cousin married into the pack there and we'd be welcome for while.” Tony set a narrow–eyed look on Cal. “Which means, if you smell another shifter, you just leave 'em alone.”

“Don't I always?” Cal grinned, spreading his hands in innocence. Even Daniel snorted at that.

“I mean it, Cal. Nothing messy. Beer, music, food, frolicking.”

“Frolicking? Who says that?”

Tony cuffed the back of his head. “I do. Now, you smell like junk food. Go shower and get pretty for me.” Tony smiled at him affectionately. Cal tried not to blush. The feelings between them were not romantic, but it was hard for any pack wolf not to feel ridiculously pleased when his Alpha fed him approval and love.

“Tony, please stop. At this rate I will have to molest him in the shower, and we'll never get to dinner,” Daniel said, grinning, his open smile shining like a megawatt beacon.

Tony rolled his eyes. “Ahhh, that's my boys: more interested in sex than food. I don't know if Mama would be proud or appalled.”

“Unsurprised, at least.” Daniel joked back.

“True, true. Now you two get at the bath. This place doesn't have a mall but it's in the middle of Colorado: it better have a damn good steakhouse.”

Daniel ended up molesting Cal in the shower anyway, and while it was nothing more than hurried hand jobs, it took the edge off. Cal was antsy to go play later, but he knew Tony and Daniel would take hours over a good meal, and then Tony would want to check out the local talent by going to nightclubs even if they weren't planning to pick up anyone for sex as sometimes happened. The truth was that Tony was always on the prowl for
territory
, not sex. It was tough to be a rogue, but an Alpha rogue was a very wrong thing in many, many ways. Tony naturally looked for a home for them, it was his job and his instinct, and no matter how much Cal wanted to howl at the moon he was there to support his Alpha in all things.

No one said he had to be patient about it.

“It looks like a dump. Let's just go play,” Cal said, refusing to budge from the car. The steakhouse had been very good and he was full and happy, but the building in front of them looked more like an abandoned convenience store than a nightclub. Beggars couldn't be choosers, but they could walk away. He hoped.

Tony sighed. “This is a mountain town of maybe 10,000 people, of course the nightclub sucks. But we're checking it out.”

~*~

It was a busy night at the small bar–almost–nightclub and the floor was full, which was good for the club but bad for Sula. She was not a herd dancer, the kind who got on the floor only when there were 100 people to cover her. She preferred it when the club was empty and she could throw herself into the beat without worrying about people
crowding
her. The place was packed, though, so she tried to ignore the other people who were too close as the bass thrummed heavily and made her ribs vibrate until everything faded away and it was just her blending with the music. Somewhere nearby, her best friend and adopted “sister” Lisbeth was probably flirting with some hopelessly smitten normal who did not have a chance in hell of getting anywhere with the beautiful werewolf, and probably wouldn't want to if he figured out she was a werewolf. Lisbeth enjoyed playing those games, using her natural beauty to entertain herself. Sula preferred the anonymity of the dance floor, where she could get lost in the music and even, for a moment, forget about the magical bracelet on her wrist that controlled so much of her own power as a shifter.

They were safe, she was buzzed, and Lisbeth was happy. It was, in the moment, a beautiful world.

She came back to reality shuffling across the floor to an 80s soft–rock standard, something romantic enough to get couples entwined without leaving the floor. Sula turned a bit, realizing she had lost Lisbeth somewhere, so she drifted around the edges of the dance floor until she found her. In someone's lap, from what she could see over the crowd. Not surprising or unexpected, except that the guy was one of three, and they were all shifters. That was new and unusual for the small mountain city, and Sula's hackles went up. They were either passing through (bad) or in hiding (worse), and one of them had already latched onto the allure and passion of Lisbeth. He was skinny and pale but his skin was naturally olive–complexioned. He was Mediterranean in looks with a patrician profile and he was smiling broadly with his hands covering Lisbeth neutrally enough on her waist and shoulders, nothing suggestive but definitely possessive. Sula laughed at that: like anyone, anywhere, could hold onto Lisbeth if she did not want to be kept. Sula zeroed in, moving in time to the music, and all three men registered surprise as she sidled up to them.

“Lost you.” Sula poked at Lisbeth's arm, purposefully ignoring the strange shifters.

“Found me!” Lisbeth laughed and poked back, swaying a bit in the man's arms, elegant and regal even when slightly buzzed. Sula could tell that she was just drunk enough to enjoy herself, but not sloppy with it, simply relaxed and basking in the power of the shifters around her. Sula wondered if they were wolves like Lisbeth, or something else, but it was idle curiosity because whatever they were she knew they were dangerous. Lisbeth was enjoying toying with them but Sula planned to keep her eyes open for trouble.

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